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Liberty Wins OCL Nationals

By Frank Rizzo
WEST POINT — February 29, 2000 -- The Liberty gymnasium, already showcasing a handful of Ulster County Athletic League (UCAL) and Mid-Hudson Athletic League (MHAL) boys’ basketball title banners, gained yet another one on Sunday.
The Indians downed Cornwall 69-64 in overtime to win the Orange County League (OCL) National Conference championship.
Class C Liberty (18–2), the Division II champ, beat Class B Cornwall (11–9), which had won the Division I championship.
“That was one of the most exciting wins (I’ve ever coached),” said Ed Riente, who is in his third different decade as varsity coach of the Indians. “Anytime you can come back like that in a championship game, and not fall apart is great.”
Cornwall dominated the first half, going up 37-26 at the break behind center Mike Early. The 6-foot-5 pivot scored 11 in the first half and had 16 at the half.
More importantly, he had Liberty center Travis Emery and forward Evan Mullen in foul trouble.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Riente commented. “Cornwall shot phenomenally in the first half, and and had us down by 15 at one point.
“Their big kid (Early) was a handful,” Riente added. “I had to put Chris Sinceno on him and Chris helped shut him down.”
In the third quarter, Cornwall scored just five points as Liberty began closing the gap, and the Indians took their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter. Liberty’s Jon Tanous missed a jumper from the foul line which would have given the Indians the regulation win.
Thanks to Early’s two early OT buckets, the Green Dragons held the lead in the extra period, but Liberty closed out strong to clinch the win.
“It was a great comeback,” Riente praised. “I knew if we hung in there our quickness and our bench would make a difference. Our legs were fresher. As the game went on (Cornwall’s) shots were falling short and they weren’t getting the rebounds.”
Tanous paced the Indians with 19 points, including a couple of 3-pointers in the first half to keep Liberty within range. Sinceno scored 18 and Mullen added 11. Chris Winters scored eight off the bench while Mike Poje and Travis Emery finished with six each.
Second-seeded Liberty will receive a bye in the first round of the Class C tourney. The Indians will play the winner of Tuesday’s James I. O’Neill at Fallsburg match. The semifinal will take place Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan County CC in Loch Sheldrake.

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